Whose Economy? Perceptions of National Economic Performance During Unequal Growth
Public Opinion Quarterly. 76(1):50-70
22 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2011 Last revised: 29 Oct 2012
Date Written: September 6, 2011
Perceptions of national economic performance are a cornerstone of American public opinion and of Presidential approval. Yet much of our knowledge about economic perceptions comes from political surveys conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, prior to the recent increase in income inequality. This paper updates our understanding of economic perceptions by combining the 1978-2010 Michigan Surveys of Consumer Attitudes with various economic indicators. It first uses aggregate data to show that despite rising inequality, Americans of all incomes continue to agree about national economic performance. In past work, snapshots from elections create the impression that these assessments of economic performance are influenced only by income growth among the wealthy. Examining more than 215,000 respondents over three decades, however, we learn that income growth among the poor is frequently more influential. This paper thus identifies an attitudinal mechanism by which the poor’s economic condition can profoundly influence American politics.
Keywords: economic perceptions, income inequality, consumer sentiment
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